The Best Stories About the U.S. Open

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Aug. 31 2013 7:15 AM

Roger, Serena, and Billie Jean King

The Longform guide to the U.S. Open.

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Roger Federer of Switzerland returns a shot to Grega Zemlja of Slovenia during their first round men's singles match in the U.S. Open.

Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for the USTA

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Federer as Religious Experience 
David Foster Wallace • Play • August 2006

On the joys of watching the winningest tennis player of all time, then at the height of his powers and now in his twilight, play live.

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“The metaphysical explanation is that Roger Federer is one of those rare, preternatural athletes who appear to be exempt, at least in part, from certain physical laws. Good analogues here include Michael Jordan, who could not only jump inhumanly high but actually hang there a beat or two longer than gravity allows, and Muhammad Ali, who really could "float" across the canvas and land two or three jabs in the clock-time required for one. There are probably a half-dozen other examples since 1960. And Federer is of this type—a type that one could call genius, or mutant, or avatar. He is never hurried or off-balance. The approaching ball hangs, for him, a split-second longer than it ought to. His movements are lithe rather than athletic. Like Ali, Jordan, Maradona, and Gretzky, he seems both less and more substantial than the men he faces. Particularly in the all-white that Wimbledon enjoys getting away with still requiring, he looks like what he may well (I think) be: a creature whose body is both flesh and, somehow, light.”

Raised By Women to Conquer Men
Frank Deford • Sports Illustrated • August 1978

A profile of Jimmy Connors on the eve of the 1978 U.S. Open. Connors’ legendary confidence, honed by his mother since childhood, was in freefall. (He would go on to win the final in straight sets.)

“That has happened is disillusioning for Connors and his mother. They speak of the latest wrack and ruin by Borg in hallucinatory terms, and Jimmy fitfully retreats to the glorious conquests of yore: ‘They'll be talking about '74 when I'm dead. ... Don't forget what I did in '74. ... Nobody can ever take '74 from me.’ On and on like that. And the greatest irony is that '74 will be devalued if he does not triumph over Borg in '78, because this year Borg can win the Grand Slam and the Davis Cup-and as extraordinary as '74 was, Connors did not achieve that. For history, then, what would '74 become but a real good year a kid had just before Borg became great?

“And that was so long ago: 1974. Since then Connors's father has died, and his surrogate father—his manager, Bill Riordan—has become estranged from him. His only male instructor, Pancho Segura, has been discharged. His engagement to Chris Evert, the one sweet love of his life, was called off, nearly at the altar. Looking back, it all began to unravel then, the loss of dear ones and tournaments alike. A kind of incompleteness plagues Connors. In the big tournaments, the ones he shoots for, he virtually never loses until the finals. What is it there? What seizes him at the last step? There is a flaw somewhere, something that denies him consummation in his life.”

The Match Maker
Don Van Natta Jr. • ESPN the Magazine • August 2013

On Sept. 20, 1973, just a month after she won the U.S. Open, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in a match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” watched by 50 million Americans. This spring, a man named Hal Shaw came forward with a secret he’d held for 40 years: Riggs, in debt to the Mafia, had lost on purpose.

“The men, Shaw says, used an array of nicknames for Riggs—‘Riggsy,’ ‘BB,’ ‘Bobby Bolita.’ Ragano told the men that ‘Riggsy’ was prepared to ‘set up two matches … against the two best women players in the world,’ Shaw says. ‘He mentioned Margaret Court—and it's easy for me to remember that because one of my aunt's names was Margaret so that, you know, wasn't hard to remember—and the second lady was Billie Jean King.’

Ragano explained that Riggs ‘had the first match already in the works … and the second match he knew would follow because of Billie Jean King's popularity and everything that it would be kind of a slam dunk to get her to play him bragging about beating Margaret Court,’ Shaw says Ragano told the men. Shaw also says he heard Ragano mention an unidentified mob man in Chicago who would help engineer the proposed fix.

"'Mr. Ragano was emphatic,’ Shaw recalls. ‘Riggs had assured him that the fix would be in—he would beat Margaret Court and then he would go in the tank’ against King, but Riggs pledged he'd ‘make it appear that it was on the up and up.’

Serena Williams: The Great One
Stephen Rodrick • Rolling Stone • June 2013

The best women’s tennis player of all time opens up.

“I wait until Serena is in a trancelike state before asking her about her anger issues. In the recent documentary Venus and Serena, Serena listed her different personas: Summer, the one who writes thank-you notes; Psycho Serena, the tennis player; and Taquanda, whom Serena describes simply as ‘not a Christian.’ It was Taquanda, according to Serena's mom, who threw the tantrum at the U.S. Open in 2009. ‘Taquanda got loose,’ Oracene says.

“Serena happily cops to the multiple personalities. After she struggled in an early match at the Sony Open, a reporter asked her what she was saying to herself on the court. Serena just laughed.

"‘When I'm down, I talk to myself a lot. I look crazy because I'm constantly having an argument with myself. We're going back and forth and then I tell her she sucks and she tells me to shut up. Then we get along.’

“There's been an uneasy truce between the many faces of Serena for two years. Serena followed her 2009 U.S. Open outburst with another one in 2011, when she accused a chair judge of being ‘the one who screwed me last time.’ (She wasn't.) Serena knows she doesn't play best out-of-control angry and talks frankly about what it has cost her. When we met, she had won the French Open only once, and she blamed near misses on her psyche.”

How the Daughter of an Ancient Race Made It Out of the Australian Outback
Harry Gordon • New York Times • August 1971